Driving on the Parkway after dark is an interesting challenge concerning the deer that see headlights and think they're two floating lights, not imagining it is a ton of steel, plastic and glass in motion. Yet dogs get it and cats get it. Bobcats get it. Possums don't appear to get it. I used to drive like these critters were in the way. That has changed. I finally got it that I'm driving through their world. They know those smelly, noisy four-footed gigantic beetles stay on that track where nothing grows. They stay off it during the day. But at night, it doesn't register that those lights are the same as the giant beetles that zoom by during the day. Deer in the headlights makes a good metaphor for the look in the eyes of people working in Japanese and Chinese restaurants when you say something to them not from the menu. It makes me want to leave Japanese and Chinese-to-English phrase books with them. Somebody says, "What time does the bus depart?" and they can see it written in dancing chicken footprints. Maybe cell phones do that now. It's not annoying. It's just dazed people from a culture entirely different from ours, languages entirely different from ours. I'd be dazed in the same way working at a Hardees in some Chinese mountain town too small for a dot in atlases. Somebody say to me, "What time does the bus depart?" I'd probably say, "Ohio gozymas," that poorly. I can't help but be sympathetic with these people making a living in a place where everybody looks down on them, and they're proud people, just like we are.
There is so much to be sympathetic about, I'm wondering if sympathetic concern might be an affectation we learned somewhere along the way thinking it was real. I think it might have been "real" in a tribal setting where everyone is intimately connected with everyone else, where nobody has their own business. Sympathy seems like it is right for people nearby we know well, but to hear about an earthquake in China where a school caves in on the kids, the grief of the parents, I feel for everyone concerned; sympathy is what I feel. Then the Japanese tsunami nuclear disaster. It messed up a lot of people, dogs and cats. I'm sympathetic. Every day on the news children shattered by landmines, "smart bombs" killing indiscriminately, tormenting twice that many with pain, grief and agony. I see pictures of little black refugee kids like skeletons and I feel sympathetic. I want to help. I can't do anything. Don't have money to send, can't go volunteer in a refugee camp, and if I did have the time and money, there'd be no end to it, running from one rescue mission to the next, all of them too late.
It's hard to pull in from not feeling a twang when I hear news stories about other people's misfortunes. But I also need my energy here where I am, in the world I live in, with the people I live among. That's where my sympathy belongs, where I need it first. It's hard not to avoid being wrenched every day by somebody's agony someplace in the world. It seems like paying too much attention to the agonies out in the world on tv, in other countries, albeit artificially, diminishes attention that is needed at home. It's a narrow line to walk, a razor's edge even, finding how to be aware, even prayerful, of what is happening around, but with the dispassion of knowing it is outside my jurisdiction. That's somebody else's immediate concern. I have plenty of immediate concern here at home. In my spiritual path I've come to see that everyday life is where it's at. I have learned I find much more interesting people in the ones I already know, the people who live nearby, the people I see wherever I go in my world. I'd rather know the people I know of these mountains than somebody famous in NY or LA or anywhere I am not. The pop world keeps us believing that wherever we are is not where It is at. It is always somewhere I am not.
Yesterday, talking with my friend Justin about the thrill I had from a full week of focus on one theme, writing wide-open, four straight days from getting up to turning in, fingers dancing on the keyboard, Caterpillar frustrated because she couldn't hold my attention for more than a few seconds at a time, a touch on top of her head that says I'd love to pet you, but I'm involved in the part of the human mind that cats don't have, the forebrain, thinking abstractly, putting thoughts together to tell a story. I believe she reads me telepathically, which makes me wonder what she sees when I'm thinking about a fiddler I've never met in a time I didn't know first-hand. She went off to her bed seeing there was no penetrating the peasoup fog. Four straight days of total focus on one theme and a full day of rewriting, writing new paragraphs to fill in blanks, then two more days of rereading and clarifying sentences that needed it, changing words, even nit picky words, like changing an in to a with. These sorts of details matter. I'm still in the charm of that fixation. Heard five minutes of news once a day to keep abreast of Syria and Turkey. Finally, today I've reached the place that rereading as editor has become boring. I want to do something else.
Justin told me I get the same thrill out of writing and painting that he gets out of hunting. He said, "Hunting is better than sex. Sex is the same over and over. Hunting is different every time." We talked about the thrill of attention focused absolutely for a period of time. He sits in a deer blind or in a stand in a tree for hours without moving or making a sound. He takes his four year old boy with him, teaches him silence and patience. He takes his five year old girl, too, and teachers her the same. Justin hunts to eat. He gets Welter Ham in Whitehead to butcher his kills like beef and keeps it in the freezer. At the moment he has the head of the last buck he shot with a nice rack in the freezer waiting to be mounted. Justin also takes Crystal hunting. She's good. He aims to put both kids through gun safety courses where they can learn more than he could teach them. He could teach them plenty, but the course does it better. Also, like in learning to drive from somebody besides parents, there is no parental tension in the way. I cannot allow myself to kill even the spiders in the window corners. Yet I know they're about killing to eat. Everything living kills to eat. Chickens eat grasshoppers. Cats eat mice. Coyotes eat cats. We eat lunchmeat from the grocery store, steaks, hotdogs, bacon, chicken nuggets, and we don't kill anything. No dragging in a dead squirrel, peeling the skin off, etc. Justin was taught to hunt before he started school. I said of the baby, Vada, "She'll have her first buck when she's six." Justin said, "Before that."
In my own Way, I have no problem with killing for food. I don't even have a problem with somebody making a kill and leaving it for the coyotes. Who has a problem with road kill? Same difference. I will slow down to a stop if necessary to avoid hitting a critter of the night. I've had raccoons, possums, cats, dogs, squirrels, rabbits dart under the tire from the side, no time to even lift foot from gas pedal. I don't like it, but remind myself in God's way of seeing that it is a blink of an eye leaving the body suddenly. I say a prayer for the being's soul every time I nail one or see one on the road. I can't help but see them people like us, consciousness in a particular form. They're in the same realm of consciousness as our dogs and cats. If they were tame, we could connect with them like we do with our pets. I do enough killing without intent just from living in the world as it is now, driving everywhere we go. It's because I see the four-leggeds as my friends I haven't met yet. I think of them as the true Innocents in our world. Humanity mows over them like they're nothing. I have a hard time seeing a deer hanging by back feet, guts tumbling out on the floor. I can't do that. It has surely come to me from previous lifetimes, my never wanting to hurt anybody or anything. I never learned to want to hurt somebody in a fight and never learned to want to see one of God's baby's die by my intent. I don't believe I have the right when I'm not needing the food. That's when I join the food chain, saying a prayer of gratitude for the soul of each one killed. I make sure my hunter friends understand my reticence about killing is for myself and does not extend beyond myself. I admire their skills and enjoy hearing their hunting stories. I can't help but think there is enough killing going around; I don't need to participate in it just because it's going around. And deer aren't going to get overpopulated because I'm not killing them.
I'll go on feeding my friend the possum that lives under the house. I put out extra seeds on the ground by the feeders for the red squirrels that came marauding. I feed them and they leave the bird feeders alone. I decided when I put the feeders out that I would accept whoever in the neighborhood came in to the food kitchen. It's a good shelter for the small birds out of sight of the hawks and in such a thicket the hawks are unable to maneuver. Chipmunks dart through the leaves on the ground and become invisible when they're still. I have a small peaceable kingdom inside my circle of trees around the house. The gray squirrel that lives across the road drops in from time to time. Putting out enough for the bluejays too, they don't bully the other birds. This is the world I want to live in. Can't do anything about it beyond my property line. Out there in the rest of the world it is going to be what it is going to be. In here, in my circle of trees the critters have a free food kitchen with seeds they like. It's unrealistic to want the peace I want for myself for everybody else in the world. That's their choice, and their business. In my world the birds sing and the pair of red squirrels chase each other round and round like kittens.